(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
I met Diana Kam at Asia Investment Conference (“AIC”), a series of investor-focused events independently produced and curated by IJK Capital Partners. Since initiating this in 2015, the executive team has successfully put together nearly 10 investor-focused summits in Asia. AIC aims to create an ecosystem that will bring together business leaders and experts to brainstorm, interact and generate ideas for solving problems in an increasingly complex and interconnected economy.
Diana is a Venture Partner in Decacorn Capital, a cross border venture funding initiative that curates technology-led, game-changing businesses, from around the world, having a clear path to monetization and run by high caliber passionate founders with a mission to create a true delight or solve a real problem.
She has over 15 years of experience in corporate and management consulting, predominantly in the USA and China, with global majors, United Technologies, Intel, TNT, and Korn Ferry HayGroup. Diana has an all-rounded strategic human resources design and hands-on operational & implementation experience with specialties in ramping up new businesses, mergers & acquisitions, and is widely recognized for her ability to spot talents.
She holds a graduate degree in Economics from the National University of Singapore, a Masters in Commerce from the University of Melbourne and attended an Executive Program with Darden Business School. She has been residing in Shanghai now, for more than a decade.
What makes you do what you do?
I have always been passionate about innovation and being innovative. The bulk of my earlier career was in a corporate setting which is not always the most conducive setup for being innovative. Even then, I was always the proponent and advocate of breaking the mold to tackle problems in innovative ways. Albeit not all my battles were won, I was known as someone who challenges the status quo and is extremely good at solving all kinds of complex problems. During my assignment to the United States on a global senior management role working with the brightest R&D engineering minds in one of the largest corporations in America, I further witnessed the barriers, obstacles and rules engineers had to overcome for every step of the innovation process that frustrated many. At the same time, I was introduced to angel investing in startups that operate in a starkly contrasting manner. Given my extensive experience in large organizational setup, I had a gut feeling that the startup world is what I need to immerse myself in so as to have a full appreciation of how both worlds work and how I might one day bridge and connect the two for greater and successful collaboration that will be productive for the society.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Sheer persistence, determination and authenticity. I dedicated and committed my time to conferences, summits, demo days and meetings with founders, investors, corporate innovation leaders, accelerators, incubators and anyone in the ecosystem. I am very honest about what I do not know and I made up for it by seeking out the best people in the industry to learn from.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you?
Although I do not have a typical profile or background, I am not one to let my past dictate what I can or cannot do. If you believe you have a limitation, you will have a limitation. Throughout my career, I have always been assigned to roles and assignments that I did not have prior experience or skills in but I have never failed to deliver exceptional performance. Challenges never deter or daunt me, they drive me. My untypical profile is actually my strength as I bring on diversity to the thought process. Moreover, I want to back founders who are creating real performing businesses that are productive economically and socially. I call it ‘responsible investing’ which there is a dire need of in these times of distorted valuations and misallocation of funds to non-viable business models. One key success factor is to invest in the right founder and founding team with the right business case and model. Widely known to many for having an uncanny knack to spot talents, it makes a lot of sense for me to take on this role.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
When was in college, I developed a habit to keep a log book and note down the traits of people I admire based on my firsthand experience and learn to cultivate and customize them to become my own. These traits can be as simple as a body language to how one diffuses a tense situation. Hence I believe every person I meet has something to teach me. I do not have a particular mentor but I gravitate to people who have exceptional control of their thoughts. I also seek out people whom I believe can offer me trusted advice in areas I need and I proactively reach out to them when necessary.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Born and raised in a multi-racial society in Singapore that stresses on the importance of harmony and equality that were once pivotal for our nation’s survival, I grew up with the notion that it is not our race, gender or religion that will determine if I will get into the best schools, land that prestigious job or get a head-start in life but by our own merits. Diversity is in our DNA and meritocracy is our motto. It is our way of life. As such, I never view diversity as a set of metrics to be met. My first principle is always meritocracy but I have come to appreciate that not everybody has the chance to be on the same level playing field so instead of focusing only at the angle of diversity, I try to help those who have lesser means to succeed in life. For instance, I am part of a China-based NGO that helps single mother refugee women become financially viable to care for their children. Then just yesterday, I became acquainted with a young man who peddled the streets of Shanghai to sell a cleaning product that claims to remove all stains in clothing, shoes, and furniture. When I told him the product did not work, he volunteered to come by my office to clean for me. Not only did he show up, but he also managed to remove the stubborn stains on my white shoes and dresses to prove that his product works. I was very impressed with his integrity and we spent time talking and exploring his strengths and how I may be able to refer him to other jobs that can get him off the streets.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
A great leader pushes for the right standards, perpetuates the right values and drives the veracious vision that nobody else dares to. A great leader also pays it forward and grooms the next generation of talents who strive to continuously push for the right standards, perpetuates the right values and drives the veracious vision.
Advice for others?
Too many depending on their needs. If I were to cite a couple that has served me well so far, those are: always believe that you create your own luck and always be mindful of the thoughts that you allow to come into your head.
If you’d like to get in touch with Diana Kam, please feel free to reach out or connect with her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianakam/
To learn more about Decacorn Capital, please visit https://decacorncapital.com/
Talks@AIC will hold its first event at Kuala Lumpur, focusing on Private Equity and Venture Capital in Malaysia and will also be holding its annual AIC conference in Shanghai this year in October as well, that pivots on how China’s investment landscape changes in the next decade.